Franklin County is situated in the western part of
the State, its northern extremity bordering on Canada. Somerset County bounds it on the east, Kennebec and Androscoggin
on the south, and Oxford County on the west. The area is 1,600 square miles. The Saddleback and Mount Abraham range
of mountains, continuing eastward on a line with the Rangeley Lakes, divides the county in two nearly equal portions
and separates the Sandy River valley on the south from that of Dead River on the north. From the line of highlands
that marks the boundary between it and Canada flow down the head waters of the Androscoggin and Kennebec. Mount
Abraham, 3,387 feet in height, and Saddleback Mountain, about 4,000 feet, mark the middle portion of the county,
and Blue Mountain, also about 4,000 in height, with its eastward range of hills, subdivides the southern section.
The Androseoggin River passes across a corner of Jay, the south-western town of the county, and the streams of
towns on this side are generally tributary to this river. An interesting feature is the combiriation of scenery,
about one little valley of ten miles radius from the town of Farmington, embracing the bold features of mountain
ranges, with the low, warm, fertile valley, having the geological features and botanical exuberance which are not
often found except in extensive countries. The region in view from the Saddleback range is no less striking, for
on the west and south-west lie the Rangelev and Richardson Lakes, partly in Franklin and partly in Oxford; northward
is the Dead River Valley with this tributary of the Kennebec winding peacefully through it. Clearings in many directions
sliowdots of buildings and broad tracts of grass-land and cultivated field.
Franklin County was the home of the Norridgewock tribe of the Abnaki nation of Indians. Their principal village
was near where Sandy River enters the Kennebec. There was a village of these people at Farmington Falls; another
was at Chesterville Centre, on the Little Norridgewock. Though the tribe removed to Canada before settlements were
made in the county by white people, yet a few straggling families seem to have made different points in Franklin
their homes for many years later, having some intercourse with the hunters, trappers and early settlers. The first
of these found on Sandy River the camp of one of these secluded aborigines named Pierpole. He assisted them with
valuable information in regard to their new borne; but not receiving the sympathy that was desirable from his new
neighbors, and being Roman Catholic in religion, he migrated to Canada with his family, carrying with him the dead
body of his child.
By the reportd of hunters, the existence of the "Great Interval" on Sandy River became known in certain
quarters, creating a large degree of interest. In 1776, therefore, five enterprising young men from Topsham explored
the region with a view to settlement. Their names were Stephen Titconib, Robert Gower, James Henry, Robert Alexander
and James Macdonnel. They selected lots in the centre of the "Great Interval," measuring them off with
strings of basswood bark. No family, however, moved into the place till 1781. Mr. Titcomb, intending to become
the first settler with a family in the place, started with them and his household goods in the autumn of 1780,
but was blocked up by snow at the last house on the route, situated in Readfield. When spring opened be went to
his clearing and put in his crop; then, returning for his family, he met Joseph Brown and Nathaniel Davis on the
way with their families. Settlers soon followed from each State of New England, excepting, perhaps, Vermont. The
first mill in the county was on Davis's Mill Stream, now called Temple Mill Stream, near the centre of Farmington.
This was erected by the combined enterprise of the settlers, and put in operation in the autumn of the first year
that families wintered in the place. Many Revolutionary soldiers were among the early settlers. Enoch Craig was
one of these, and became the founder of one of the enterprising and substantial families of Franklin County. In
1789, he married Dorothy Sterling, of one of the leading pioneer families, they being obliged to make a journey
to Hallowell in order to be legally united. Within ten years of the wintering of the first families in Farmington,
the Sandy River Valley, through most of its extent had become the seat of a flourishing community; and this town
alone contained 85 families.
A railroad connecting with the Maine Central was opened to Farm. ington in 1859; and in 1880, a narrow-guage
railway was constructed from Farmington to Phillips. The county having until within a few years been without the
facilities of communication necessary to the development of manufactures beyond the supply of some of its local
wants, affords perhaps the best illustration that can be found in New England of the relative profits of exclusively
agricultural investments in a region distant from large markets, owing none of its prosperity or wealth to commerce,
manufacturing or lumbering operations. What., then, has agricultural industry, unassisted by any other enterprise
or investment, done for a community of 17 towns in the interior of Maine? The reply is "It has for nearly
a century supported in comparative affluence an average population of some 20,000." Just in proportion as
grazing-that is, stock-growing-was made the main reliance and endeavor, their progress and prosperity have been
conspicuous. Rev. J. S. Swift, author of an excellent article on Franklin County in the "History of New England"
of Crocker and Howard, and having large acquaintance in the county, says that he "knows of no instance where
a Franklin farmer has kept out of speculation, and made a specialty of grazing through a series of years, who has
not become pecuniarly independent."
Both soil and climate are well-adapted to the production of corn and wheat; and oats on the intervals not unfrequently
yield from 75 to 90 bushels to the acre.. A large business is also done in canning sweet corn. Noble orchards were
early planted in the older towns of the county, but were mainly useful for cider and vinegar, or for home use in
cooking. The new orchards are chiefly intended to produce apples suitable for eating in their natural state, and
great quantities are every year exported to all the cities of the country, and some even to Europe.
The first sermon preached in Franklin County was about 1783, by Rev. Mr. Emerson, at the log-house of Stephen Titcomb.
A Methodist meeting-house was erected at Farmington Falls as early as 1800. The meeting-house at the Centre (now
the court-house) was raised in 1803; and in a few years, spires began to rise in many parts of the county.
Franklin has three flourishing agricultural societies, each with an enclosed park and buildings for the pirposes
of exhibition. The first printing-press was set up in Franklin County in 1832, and a paper called the "Sandy
River Yeoman," was published one year, then abandoned. In 1840, the "Franklin Register" was started
at Farmington, and, after four years, changed to the" Chronicle," which has- though by different publishers-been
sustained uninteruptecily ever since. In 1858 the "Franklin Patriot" was started, continuing through
the war of the Rebellion,- a smart supporter of the opposition side against the "Chronicle." The "
Phillips Phonograph" was started in 1878. Franklin County is also notable for its educational privileges,
chief of which are the Western Normal School, for training teachers, the 'Wendell Institute, and the "Little
Blue" or Abbott Family School for boys.
The act establishing Franklin County was passed in 1838. It now contains 19 towns and 11 plantations which are
organized or have had an organization. Their names are Avon, Carthage, Chesterville, Eustis, Farmington, Freeman,
Industry, Jay, Kingfield, Madrid, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Phillips, Rangeley, Salem, Strong, Temple, Weld, Wilton,
and Coplin, Dallas, Greenvale, Letter E, Perkins, Rangeley, Jerusalem, Lang, No. 6, Sandy River, and Washington
plantations. Farmington is the shire town. The population in 1830 was 15,938. In 1870 it was 18,807. In 1880 it
was 18,177. The estates in 1870 were valued at $5,791,659. In 1880 they were $5,812,866.